Dr Nguyen Dinh Cung is the first Vietnamese policy maker to promote social enterprise in Vietnam and is also a trailblazer who has been there side by side with the British Council championing efforts to integrate social enterprise-specific content into the revised 2014 Enterprise Law.
In the eyes of the social enterprise community in Vietnam, Dr Cung, head of the Central Institute for Economic Management (CIEM), is the founding father and ambassador of social enterprise (SE) in the legal system. The 2009–2014 period was a memorable time for him and the SE community.
It all began in March 2009 when the British Council introduced the concept of social enterprise to Vietnam for the first time. It was also when Dr Cung watched a story on British television in 2009 talking about a type of business unaffected by the global economic crisis, one that could prosper and even resolve the problems emerging from the meltdown. As a policy maker sensitive to the social implications of acute economic downturns as experienced during the crisis, Cung saw right away that this was something that Vietnam might need. And so he got together with the British Council to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that has helped the social enterprise community to grow sustainably ever since.
The partnership officially started with a survey of the SE context in Vietnam, the UK and other countries in Southeast Asia. Development policies for SE pioneered by the UK were also examined, with a view to identifying those that could be applied to Vietnam. From this survey, Dr Cung was inspired by human-centric business models, which aim to generate economic returns while also addressing social and environmental issues. He became a trailblazer in the drafting and integration of SE-specific legislation for the revised 2014 Enterprise Law and in doing so helped create a legal framework and wider sector ecosystem for SE that would allow smaller socially and environmentally responsible businesses to prosper. Throughout this process, the British Council stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Cung and his team, providing case studies from the UK as evidence of the success of SEs in the UK and the positive impact they have had on economic development there.
Enshrined in law, SEs in Vietnam are now formally recognised. In fact, Vietnam has some of the most forward-thinking SE legislation in the region. Social enterprises are encouraged and legal frameworks facilitate stronger and more equitable growth than before, as previous legislation had focused more heavily on rigid adherence to regulations designed for different corporate entities, leaving little space for social enterprises to flourish.
Dr Cung is also the author of a series of laws vital to economic restructuring. He started his career at CIEM in 1983, the dawn of Vietnam’s transition to Đổi Mới, a series of market liberalisation reforms that occurred throughout the 1980s and 1990s. These reforms are largely credited with facilitating the impressive economic growth rates and accompanying increases in living standards that occurred during this period. Key legislation Cung drafted included the 1987 Foreign Investment Law, the 1990 Private Business Law and the 1999 Enterprise Law.
He is also a man influenced by British education. He completed his graduate studies in the UK in 1992. In 1994, Cung returned to the UK on a Chevening scholarship, studying for a Master’s degree sponsored by the UK Ministry of Foreign Affairs and coordinated by the British Council. Building on ten successful years of Vietnam-specific policy making and research, these international courses helped Cung access multiple perspectives on market lead development trajectories, re-invigorating his approach to law-making.